The Family I Chose: The Gutierrez Family

“Friends are the family you choose,” my parents would often say when I was young.  As we moved to New York from Buenos Aires, those words became so incredibly real to me.  Being away from my relatives made me look for that warmth and closeness in other places, and as my parents predicted, I found it in my friends.

As a sibling of a child with disabilities, it was always my “job” to be guarded, and to vet every single person that we met.  This was a responsibility that I somehow assumed for myself and took seriously.  This meant that it was always difficult for me to have a large group of friends.  I always preferred a small, but remarkably close group.  I was always protective and picked my friends wisely.

My lucky stars must have aligned the day I met Nelly, a September morning in 1997.  I probably should also thank our daughters, Iliana and Carolina, for having sat together that day in kindergarten class!  Needless to say, that spearheaded a friendship that would stand the test of time.  But through all this time, there was something that really stood out about Nelly, who became like a sister to me, her daughters Iliana and Ivana, who are like my nieces, and their late husband and father, Anibal:  Their ability to understand my brother, love him for who he is, and the desire to be of service to those like him.

From left to right: Ivana, Nelly, and Iliana Gutierrez

I really have no words to express my gratitude to them.  They allowed their love for my brother to serve as a guiding principle in their lives.  I never had to pretend to be anything around them.  I could be myself.  I could express my doubts and my fears.  And most important of all, I could blindly trust them with my brother’s life.  After all, they designed their lives around children and adults with disabilities:  Nelly, Iliana, and Ivana all work in the field, in different capacities, and make a huge difference in people’s lives daily. 

From left: Ivana, Iliana, and Nelly

And when I say they make a difference, I really mean it.  They really, really do.  They all participate not only in their professional capacities but also bend over backwards to advance the rights of people with disabilities around the world.  They fight for access and inclusion in every area of life.  They do this because of their love, commitment, and passion for what is right.

Nelly and I

Nelly, Iliana, and Ivana, thank you for being who you are, and for your respect, love, and dedication.  I am proud to call you my FAMILY.

Unconditional Love

My list of angels and superheroes could never be complete without the special place that Omar, Daniela, and Martin, as well as their mom and dad, my uncle Pedro and my aunt Pierangela had in my life.  They are my cousins, but in reality they are so much more than that.  Truth is, I tried to write this piece so many times, but words are not enough to express my immense gratitude to them.

Daniela and me

My childhood and my life in general were simply made better because of them.  Around them, we were just a family.  We were not special, different, and didn’t need to be “accommodated.”  Life was simply life.  Love was simply love.  And my youngest brother with disabilities was their cousin too. They saw him for who he was.

Daniela and Martin

They presented a micro social experiment of what could be possible.  They presented an alternative. I felt safe.  I felt understood.  I felt heard.  And what’s more important, I felt that my little brother was a person first.  When I was growing up, it was not uncommon for people to see disability first, then, perhaps, the person behind it.

Omar and Daniela

At my cousins’ house this was not the case.

Daniela with my brother Fernando

To Omar, Daniela, Martin, and my late uncle Pedro and late aunt Pierangela, THANK YOU.

Daniela and Martin
Thank You!